Botswana Diamond Manufacturers Association says the announcement by the world’s largest diamond producer, De Beers to venture into the production of lab made diamonds would not pose any threat to the industry.
The Association chairman, Kfir Teichman said the decision by De Beers to start making diamonds in laboratories is not bad one, saying the group will continue to focus on the core business of naturally extracted gem stones. Teichman said the diamond industry was evolving.
However, observers are of the view that having spent several years fending off synthetic diamonds as well as condemning their existence, this might be a strategy by De Beers to use its position as the world largest diamonds producer to enter the synthetic market and eventually push out those who have been manufacturing them, before abandoning the process of making lab diamonds.
De Beers’ Group Executive President Commercial and Partnerships, Alessandra Berridge insisted the company’s focus will remain on naturally mined diamonds.
De Beers, which is in partnership with Government of Botswana and together operate a 50/50 joint venture called Debswana, says projects like the Cut 9 and Cut 3 that are coming up in Jwaneng and Orapa Mines respectively show that it is not abandoning natural diamonds.
Berridge says they have extensively engaged government of Botswana, which holds a 15 percent stake in De Beers with the rest held by multinational mining group, Anglo American. This was also confirmed by minerals minister, Eric Molale.
Berridge says De Beers has made a somersaulted in order to make consumers differentiate between a lab made diamond and a natural diamond.
“It is important for consumers to understand the difference between the two types of diamonds and for us these diamonds would be marketed with integrity,” says Berridge.
The lab made diamonds whose production will be starting in September will be marketed through a company called Lightbox Jewellery and the target market is the US. Berridge says they see the US as a suitable market to start in based on the research that the company carried out in the last 18 months.
Whether this will be rolled out to other parts of the world is not known at this stage as Berridge says they do not know where the project will take them in the future.
Lightbox lab-grown diamonds are expected to retail from US$200 for a quarter-carat stone to US$800 for a one-carat stone. With these affordable prices, Berridge says it is unlikely that most consumers will be swayed towards lab-made diamonds and bring down sales of natural diamonds. She says synthetics will be marketed as such and same applies to the natural ones.
While there are fears that this move is likely to pull down sales of natural diamonds, Berridge says they will be happy if demand for these lab made diamonds increases but that does not mean natural ones will be affected as there are those who will still want them.
De Beers is investing US$ 94 million over four years in a new production facility near Portland, Oregon to produce upwards of 500, 000 rough carats of lab-grown diamonds a year. While natural diamonds are created through a geological process which takes millions of years, synthetics are produced though artificial processes such high-pressure high temperature (HPHT) or chemical vapour deposition (CVP).